27/05/2009 18:05, Report by Ben Hibbs, in Rome
Barcelona 2 United 0
We were told this Champions League final would be a game displaying the beauty of the counter-attack; no two teams in Europe more adept at carrying it out. But United would certainly have hoped not to be so heartbreakingly on the end of its devastation.
Twice United looked to be in control of proceedings here in Rome, and both times Barcelona hit the Reds on the break as goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi secured a 2-0 win for the Spanish champions. Make no mistake, the intricate passing football of Pepe Guardiola's side was brilliant at times, and there is no real injustice in the result.
That said, United could have been two or three goals up inside the first seven or eight minutes but, sad to say, this was to be Barcelona’s night.
Sir Alex went with the team many predicted, full of pace and set up to counter. There were no real surprises in the Barcelona outfit either, Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry recovering from recent injuries to take their place in the starting line-up.
Gary Neville was the noticeable absentee from United’s 18-man squad. The Reds skipper lost out to Rafael on the bench. And even in choosing the young Brazilian’s speed over Neville’s experience, it said everything about the type of game Sir Alex sought to play.
As kick-off approached, the teams tantalisingly walked past the trophy both clubs so keenly covet. Sir Alex passionately feels that his side have not triumphed in Europe enough but Barcelona, going for their third European title, would say the same. And so the stage was set for one of the most eagerly-anticipated finals in years.
The fans roared on the Reds, playing in white, as Anderson earned an early free-kick with a cheeky nutmeg. Ronaldo inevitably smacked the resulting 25-yard set-piece goalwards. Victor Valdes struggled to stop it and spilled the ball back